AP NEWS
Related topics

Michelangelo Virus Hits, But Doesn’t Live Up to Billing With AM-Michelangelo-Anecdotes,

March 6, 1992 GMT

Michelangelo Virus Hits, But Doesn’t Live Up to Billing With AM-Michelangelo-Anecdotes, AM-Michelangelo-How It Works

NEW YORK (AP) _ The day of techno-doom turned out to be a dud.

The much-hyped Michelangelo computer virus struck at scattered points around the world Friday but failed to live up to predictions of widespread catastrophe.

A virus expert compiled reports of about 2,000 damaged machines worldwide by late in the day. A spot check by Associated Press bureaus found few companies or other personal computer users were affected.

The dire projections had ranged into the millions of infected PCs.

Some experts said the anticlimax could make computer users less careful about the thousands of other variations of the insidious electronic invaders, which remain a real threat.

″If there’s an upside to all this it’s greater awareness of the problem,″ said Pam Kane, an author on viruses and owner of a company that makes anti- virus software. ″The downside is it’s the boy who cried wolf.″

The virus sits dormant inside IBM-type personal computers awaiting the PC’s internal clock to reach March 6, the birthday of the Italian Renaissance artist. Once the PC is turned on that day, the virus can destroy programs and data on the computer’s hard disk.

The virus - a rogue bit of computer software - was discovered about a year ago in Europe. It moves from computer to computer as users exchange infected floppy disks. Its creator and the connection with the artist are unknown.

For days, news media relayed forecasts of impending doom from Michelangelo. The story had all the right elements: a mysterious invader with a sexy name that could cause havoc by a definite deadline in machines relied upon by millions.

The reports often failed to mention that many projections of potential damage were provided by companies that make anti-viral software and stood to benefit from the scare.

One source was John McAfee of McAfee Associates, the largest seller of virus-killing programs. McAfee was widely quoted as saying Michelangelo had infected up to 5 million computers worldwide.

Asked Friday whether he had overstated the case, he said the low rate of actual Michelangelo damage was due partly to precautions so many PC users took.

McAfee said he received at least 1,000 reports nationwide of hits by the virus Friday, which he believes are a fraction of all the incidents.

Joseph Wells, a virus specialist at McAfee competitor Certus International Inc., said he compiled a list of about 2,000 PCs worldwide damaged by Michelangelo, based on reports from other virus experts and organizations.

For each of these ″hits,″ almost 200 other computers were found to have been contaminated with the virus before the Friday deadline and cleaned, he said.

″Even though a lot of people are saying it was overblown, it got something accomplished,″ Wells said.

The scare prompted many PC users to invest in anti-viral software at $100 or more a copy. Computer stores reported they were cleaned out of the programs.

Others obtained free copies through certain stores or computer ″bulletin boards.″ Prodigy, the PC information service owned by IBM and Sears, said 93,000 members ″downloaded″ a free copy of anti-Michelangelo software in the past week.

The Michelangelo hype recalled a similar media scare leading up to Oct. 13, 1989, the trigger date for the the Datacrime or Columbus Day virus. Only a handful of damaged PCs were reported that day.